By Amy Wight Chapman
Beginning soon, a new after-school string instrument program at Telstar will give SAD 44 students who sign up for lessons an instrument to use, free of charge, while they are participating in the program.
Organizer Lee Smith has played the cello since the fourth grade. She learned to play through a school program, and believes it is important to provide the opportunity for music lessons to as many students, and at as young an age, as possible.
“It has always made me sad that string instrument lessons are not available for more kids,” she said.
Elementary instrumental music teacher Duncan McFarland will offer the after-school group lessons at Telstar.
Smith said she expects the cost per lesson to be no more than $10, with a small one-time materials fee to cover such items as rosin, shoulder rests, and instructional books. Private or semi-private lessons may be available for an increased cost.
Recognizing that the cost of renting or purchasing an instrument could be prohibitive for many local families, Smith looked for a way to remove that barrier.
“Last May and June, the Maine public radio station solicited used musical instruments from its listeners,” she said.
She learned that the instruments were then donated to The Gifts of Music, a Bangor-based non-profit which cleans and restores them.
The organization works with private music instructors and school music programs to provide the instruments to students as part of its mission to keep music education and performance alive in Maine.
Smith knew that most of the musical instruments collected and refurbished by The Gifts of Music would be band instruments, but that they might also have string instruments that had been donated.
She contacted them and learned that they had 12 full-size violins and a 3/4-size cello available, and after she wrote a proposal, the organization offered them to her to help establish the local program.
Stringed instruments like violins and cellos come in several different sizes and must be the right size for the student playing them. Most elementary school children require 1/2 or 3/4 size instruments.
Although Smith hopes to eventually be able to expand the program to the lower grades if smaller instruments become available, for now the lessons will be available to high school and middle school students.
Limited options meant lots of travel
Rachael and Rose Goldberg of Bethel, who graduated from Gould Academy in June, decided in the second grade that they wanted to play string instruments. Local options for lessons were limited, said their father, Jonathan, requiring the family to get creative.
For several years, Rachael took violin lessons in Gorham, NH from a devoted but elderly instructor, until he became ill and eventually passed away.
Rose traveled to Harrison to study the cello with Portland Symphony Orchestra cellist Deborah Dabczynski.
Both girls attended the Maine Fiddle Camp in Liberty during the summers, and for a year or so, the Goldbergs were able to bring a USM student to Bethel to teach weekly lessons in their shed/studio to a handful of local students.
“It gave them a chance to play together,” Jonathan said. “Usually in school [string instrument students] end up playing with the band. Band music and orchestra music are very different.”
Music for a lifetime
Smith believes that early exposure to music and the opportunity for young people to take lessons can provide a lifetime of pleasure, and that string instruments can be very versatile. Over the years, she has played in orchestras and chamber ensembles, and she gets together at least every other week to play with two or three other local musicians.
Both of her daughters also started string instrument lessons at a young age and still enjoy playing regularly. One plays with the University of Rochester’s Medical School Orchestra, raising funds for medically-related non-profit agencies, while the other plays the fiddle with the Hell Roaring String Band of Carbondale, Colorado.
A post last month on the Team Bethel Facebook page about the new program garnered plenty of interest, and Smith is in the process of getting in touch with everyone who responded.
She hopes to hold an initial after-school meeting next week at Telstar, after which instruments will be made available to those who commit to and pay for a term of eight lessons. If there are not enough instruments for all interested students, they will be given to those who sign up first.
For more information, contact Lee Smith at 824-3491 or firstname.lastname@example.org.